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Prior to her eight years as a Tax Accountant, Kiki Gao was an Intern in our Corporate Tax Department. Read on to hear her story from Intern to full-time Employee and her passion for working at Southwest.
Where my Journey at Southwest Began
When I received my offer for an internship at Southwest, I shouted with joy, cried, and called my mom, who then did the same. In my undergraduate classes at Baylor University and graduate classes at the University of Dallas, I had repeatedly heard about Southwest being an amazing place to work because of the Culture. One random night, I saw the job posting for an internship and decided to apply—it felt out of reach but I had nothing to lose! I had no clue that my internship would turn into a career at a Company I love. On my first day as an Intern, as I walked through the doors at our Corporate Campus, a sense of calm came over me. In that moment, it felt meant to be. I decided then that I never wanted to leave.
It was an honor meeting and speaking with Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly during my internshipOne of my favorite memories as an Intern is meeting with Senior Leaders at the Company. At one specific meet and greet, I met Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus. I remember crying as I hugged and thanked Colleen for all she’s done for Southwest, and Colleen responding that she would cry too! There was such a strong feeling of connection to Southwest and meeting Colleen was an unforgettable moment. Another favorite memory is flying standby on any Southwest flight as an Intern! I even used this perk once to fly to Washington, D.C. for a friend’s wedding (whose dad turned out to be a Southwest Pilot!).
A Career with Heart
After my internship, the Corporate Tax Department offered me a full-time position where my love for Southwest grew even more. There’s nothing like experiencing the Southwest Culture first-hand!
Me (left) dressed as Cookie Monster celebrating Halloween 2019 with CFO Tammy Romo (right) dressed as Lucy from PeanutsMy two favorite events to celebrate during the year are definitely Halloween and Heroes of the Heart. Halloween is a huge, all-day celebration where Cohearts and their families dress up, play games, and more. Even Southwest stations across the country join in on the celebrations by decorating airports and dressing up in Halloween costumes. At the Heroes of the Heart event, Southwest awards a behind-the-scenes Team that doesn’t directly interact with Customers to recognize their contributions to improve the Customer Experience. Every Valentine’s Day since 1992, the winner is unveiled to the rest of the Company.
Having a Servant’s Heart is an important attribute at Southwest and my favorite way to serve others is to find a small way to make someone else’s day better. Whether it’s lending a helping hand or thanking the People around me for all that they do, I try to bring a smile to someone’s day! I have learned that every person is an important piece of a larger puzzle that is worth celebrating.
My Biggest Takeaways
My advice to future Southwest Interns? Take advantage of every opportunity; don’t worry about mistakes and learn along the way. Whether it’s a small task or a challenging project, go for it! Don’t let the fear of messing up get in your way. The People who have cared about my growth have encouraged me despite my mistakes. If you feel out of your comfort zone, you are doing something right! That is how we expose ourselves to learn about those strengths. If we keep doing what feels comfortable, then we won’t tap into them. Another takeaway? Feedback is a gift. We are all works in progress trying to be our best, but we need others to help us get there. My Leader during my internship (who is also my Leader now!) provided invaluable mentorship, strengths development, and self-awareness both personally and professionally to get to where I am now.
After more than eight years at the Company, I can’t imagine working anywhere else. Southwest is my Family and I just can’t leave Family. I often joke that if Southwest’s Corporate Campus relocated to the middle of nowhere, I would move with it because the People and Culture are unlike anywhere else. You just can’t build that or put a price on it—it’s intangible!
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My Intern class comprised of students from various states and universities!Throughout the years, I have realized that every part of my journey was worth it. I am so appreciative of the process and knowing that I’m where I’m supposed to be. Southwest is family for me, and it all started the moment I clicked submit on that internship application. If you’re interested in a career with Heart, then you’re encouraged to apply. You never know what could happen!